CHARACTERS #5 - The Invincible Hero, The Nice Guy, and the Unlikable Main Character
The Invincible Hero:
Let's talk about heroes for a moment.
1- They generally win, and there's nothing wrong with this. The average reader likes to read about a hero who defeats the villain, it's a classic story.
2 - However, there MUST be ups and downs, obstacles, and losses. Your hero, most likely, is human. Humans make mistakes, humans lose, humans go through rough times in their lives. Don't exclude your hero just because they have special talents.
3 - Failure is important.
-It creates tension in an otherwise boring story
-It makes it realistic
- It gives your readers someone to root for
- It allows your hero an opportunity to grow and learn from their mistakes
- It makes the villain seem more evil and dangerous.
4 - Being successful and perfect all the time is boring in a story or book. If you haven't gathered this already, your hero needs to fail or get hurt or something. Contrast it to his/hers success.
Very brief section, but also important.
The Nice Guy:
I'm sure you can think of a few characters, in your own writing or in others, that fit into this category. They're always respectful, nice, kind, and likable. Maybe it's your protagonist. Maybe it's the best friend who is so nice that the MC feels bad telling him she's not interested in a romantic way. Maybe it's the crush.
While they can be well written and interesting, they can also cause a lot of problems.
1 - If the MC doesn't fall in love with the nice guy, she's viewed as mean and unfair.
~ Just because he's nice, doesn't mean every girl is going to love him. There may be other qualities about him that just don't fit with the character's personality, but that can often be hard to explain in a book where all the readers see is his niceness to the MC.
2 - Give them some other goals and qualities.
- Is that all they are in life? The nice guy? Do they have no other aspirations than to just be as nice as possible? Do they not have any other redeeming qualities, such as intelligence, athleticism, etc.? (Be careful not to go overboard on those!)
3 - What are their flaws?
- It can be harder to find the flaws in a nice guy character, but they're definitely there. You just have to look hard enough. If you want a realistic character, you'll come up with some believable flaws. Maybe because they're nice, they have so many friends that they often forget names and leave people out. Maybe they're nice, but also really superficial. Maybe their nice act is just a cover-up to get people or a specific person to like them. Maybe they're nice to their peers, but really disrespectful to adults. Maybe they're insecure, or shallow, or spoiled, or arrogant (even the nicest people can have a sense of arrogance), etc.
4 - Put aside the "nice guy" tag and figure out who he is underneath.
- This is pretty much like number 2. If they didn't have that label, who would they be? The jock? The nerd? So many "nice guy" characters I see are just that, they don't really fit into any group unlike everyone else, they're just liked by everyone and this just doesn't seem very realistic.
The Unlikable Main Character:
For this, I'm going to use part of an article by Kris Noel, a Tumblr blogger and writer. (External link on side)
When I talk about an unlikeable main character, I’m not just talking about a character with flaws. All protagonists should have flaws and they should find ways to overcome them or make peace with them. Flaws are good. Flaws humanize your characters and make them interesting. The unlikeable main character, however, is someone you’re not entirely sure you should root for.
The problem (and difficulties) of having an unlikeable main character is that you need to have your readers care about him or her anyway, which is super hard. Why should your audience care about someone they don’t necessarily like? Why should they root for someone who doesn’t have the typical qualities of a hero? An unlikeable main character still has to be interesting. You still have to understand them in some way. AND you need to be able to relate to them.
If you’ve ever read The Picture of Dorian Gray, you probably didn’t like Dorian Gray or his mentor, Lord Henry, very much. Dorian Gray starts off as sort of interesting and so does Lord Henry, but we stick with them as they do horrible things, and we want to know where they end up. Their stories are interesting, so we keep reading. Although Dorian Gray is not a hero by any means, we still want to know his story.
Since a character being “likeable” all depends on the readers, it’s hard to even pinpoint what an unlikable character is. Sherlock Holmes isn’t exactly the nicest or most sympathetic person in the world, but we find him intriguing because he’s so smart, and in turn, we find him likeable. There’s something about characters that don’t function or think the same way as us that’s extremely compelling. As long as you make your main character compelling in some way, people will be interested in your story.
An unlikeable main character is generally someone you wouldn’t necessarily be friends with in real life, but they are memorable. Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange is a great example, along with Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. They’re awful, horrible people, but they make you wonder. They make you want to read on and understand why they are the way they are. They can also represent societal trends and reflect on the times we’re living in. A main character does not necessarily have to be a good person.
The next chapter will cover:
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